There’s a reason this is my first poetry review on this blog: I don’t know much about it. I’ve studied some in school, of course, and I’ve bought a few books by poets I like (off the top of my head: Byron, Cohen, Layton and Purdy), but given a choice between prose and poetry, I almost always go for prose. So I love what Mark Lavorato says in the publisher’s page for Wayworn Wooden Floors:
But I would also love to have someone who has never bought a collection of poetry before pick it up. I would love for someone to be turned onto poetry because of it. I know that’s asking a lot. But I think that the poems throughout are really quite accessible, and for that reason, unintimidating. And I would love for that person to read Wayworn Wooden Floors, and in doing so, see that poetry — arguably the world’s oldest art form — is something that has been around forever for a reason.
Lavorato’s poetry is certainly accessible; his language is simple and straightforward. When I like poets, it’s usually because the sense of rhythm in their words is so strong that it propels me through the piece, or because their imagery is so unusual that it captures my imagination. I didn’t quite get that experience with Lavorato’s poetry — I liked his poems, but they didn’t transport me.
That being said, there are some poems and some parts of poems that really struck me. I really liked “This World,” the first poem and the source for the book’s title. “This World,” Lavorato writes, “is the sprawling attic / of an abandoned building / murmuring to its own musty heights.” The comparison appealed to the romantic and the mystery lover in me, and I love the melancholy, heavy, almost oppressive imagery — “the moon heaves,” for example, and “Wayworn wooden floors lie / as if in wait for the dust to settle.” The overall sensation is fatigue; Lavorato’s imagery calls up the notion of a world longing for release. My favourite verse:
Dried wasps coil on the windowsills,
endowed, still, with a sting
for a tidying hand.
I love that final, futile bit of defiance, and I just love the phrase “sting for a tidying hand.”
I also really liked “Maps of Antiquity,” mostly because I love the first two lines: “Back when the world had edges / and was fringed with tentative shores,” I just love the sound of those lines, the unexpected idea of the world having edges, and the idea of “tentative shores” forming a fringe. The poem goes on to a more ordinary ending, in my opinion, and so fell flat for me overall, but the beginning really stuck with me.
Finally, I also liked “Fingerpaintings,” where Lavorato seamlessly integrates into his verses lyrics from nursery rhymes. Part III for example, my favourite in this poem, begins: “It was Einstein said we’d fight / the Fourth World War with / Sticks and stones.” The section goes on to talk about war, integrating within the lines the children’s ditty “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names with never hurt me.” Other than the clever conceit of including the saying so seamlessly, there is also the irony of the line “names will never hurt me,” given the historical context of war. In World War II, for example, being called a Jew can most certainly hurt you, and on so many disturbing levels. Lavorato also includes a sly description of “that mushrooming / knowledge of perfect decimation,” clearly referring to the atomic bomb and its genesis in Einstein’s theory.
Most of the poems, however, didn’t really stand out to me. I mostly found them okay, though I fully admit people who read a lot of poetry may appreciate it better. Take for example “A Handful of Seeds.” It had a beginning that I found promising: “My father teared at movies. / His hobby, though, / was taking life.” It turns out that the speaker’s father is a hunter, until he injures his leg and makes friends with birds. It should be a touching scene, the injured hunter feeding birds seeds, but I just found it sappy. The description of birds, “Light feathered bodies / dainty with hollow bones, / hovering like spectators in a gallery” strikes me as a fairly standard description of birds. I like the unexpected metaphor in poetry, as in fiction, the phrase that makes me sit up and pay attention.
Still, it’s a beautiful book, as all Porcupine’s Quill titles are. I also like Lavorato’s idea about poetry: “I would like to impress upon readers that their lives are filled with as much poetry as any other. It is simply the magnification and the Petri dish that make it verse.” (from the publisher’s website) If you’re interested in checking out Wayworn Wooden Floors for yourself, Lavorato has a couple of upcoming appearances:
Tuesday, June 19, 6 pm
Paragraphe Librairie/Bookstore. Mark will be reading from this new collection.
Located at 2220 McGill College Avenue, Montreal
Thursday, June 21, 6 pm
Nicholas Hoare Books. Reading and Celebrating.
Located at 45 Front St. E., Toronto
Want to want to win a copy of this book? I’m giving my copy to Nicholas Hoare Books to give away on or before their event with the poet. Follow them on Twitter (@NicholasHoareTO) for an upcoming contest to win the book, and drop by their event to get it signed!
Thank you to Porcupine’s Quill for a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.